An interview with SMARTHEALTH project partners: Kathy Vuillaume, Founder of Europe Project Management Consultancy (EPM), and Annika Brogaard Maczka, Project Manager at South East Health Technologies Alliance (SEHTA).
Tell us about your project?
Annika: SMARTHEALTH is a two-year cross border project developed by four experienced innovation agencies and clusters (SEHTA, EPM, Eurasanté and Amiens Cluster) in the UK and France.
The project was set up to stimulate Franco-British understanding and cooperation between SMEs and local Health and Social Care providers, in order to support the development of innovative new products and services in the e-health field.
The needs and challenges varied across providers from those looking for new ways to promote healthy lifestyle choices, to technology solutions to improve efficiency of information collection and new ways to overcome language barriers in health provision.
What have been the key outputs and results for SMARTHEALTH?
Annika: We have a wide range of outputs – we organized two kick-off events in London and Amiens at the start of the project. Both were run at the same time, allowing for live-cross border Q&As.
Then in January 2020 we organized an International Business Awards Ceremony, held in Lille, bringing together clinicians and SMEs. There was a total of 13 SMEs award winners who were matched to Health and Social Care providers, to take their ideas forward. We were lucky that this took place in person before the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions. At this event we fostered connections and talked about access to the healthcare market in the UK and France.
We also produced an SME business support programme with 10 online modules covering everything from healthcare market procurement to data protection for digital health SMEs. We had speakers in English and French on each module to build a picture of the opportunities and challenges in both markets.
And we produced video interviews with clinicians so that SMEs could hear first-hand about the needs and challenges faced by Health and Social Care providers.
By the end of the project, we reached all our target groups engaging with 40 SMEs, 3 business support organisations, 3 sector agencies and 6 hospitals and healthcare institutions.
The project was delivered during the Brexit negotiations. How did you address that?
Kathy: We provided regular guidance and advice, through e-newsletters, focused on the health regulatory changes. This really helped to inform and prepare local SMEs to the changes around Brexit.
We selected different topics of interest each time with links to the relevant UK and EU regulations provided, explained the different deal or no deal scenarios and the impact expected on the healthcare sector. For example, we published the latest information on the transition from the Medical Devices Directive (MDD) to the Medical Devices Regulation (MDR) for CE Marking.
We believe this helped to minimize the impact of Brexit on the process of innovation for start-ups and early stage innovative companies in the field of E-health.
How have you delivered impact for SMEs in the E-health sector?
Annika: The anticipated impact for the SMEs can be summarized in four ways. Firstly, we’ve increased skills and capacity among SMEs through bespoke cross-border training. Secondly, we supported the development of new and improved services through establishing links between SMEs and Healthcare providers. Thirdly, we’ve supported the uptake of new technologies among Healthcare providers. Lastly, we’ve developed networks through the kick-off meetings and events, which creates lasting connections between SMEs, hospitals and business support organisations.
Can you give an example of a product or service that SMARTHEALTH has helped to develop?
Annika: We helped establish a partnership between an SME and a care home, providing a digital solution to monitor hydration. This allowed care staff to track level of water that residents are drinking. This kind of solution is important, particularly for dementia patients that may not remember to stay hydrated.
What challenges have you faced along the way?
Kathy: The Covid-19 pandemic created some challenges because the core requirement for our project delivery relied on availability of healthcare providers and clinicians. As soon as the pandemic started clinicians and hospitals were busy fighting the pandemic.
Two project partners on the French side had to discontinue with the project due to Covid-19. As a result, we were delayed on introducing SMEs and hospital partners, which of course they understood. We also had to quickly adapt and move our training provision online.
And at the beginning we struggled to recruit enough SMEs from the eligible area, so had to look slightly further afield, for example widening our search across all the Hauts de France region.
At the same time, some opportunities arose. Hospitals were under increasing pressure to find solutions to problems and the list of requirements for an SME to fix increased.
What have been the highlights of delivering a cross-border project?
Kathy: The relationships we’ve facilitated between SMEs and hospitals. We expect they will continue working together on pilots and other types of funding.
We’ve helped open the door for SMEs, and without our help they might not have been able to make the links with large health providers.
For example, Mind Over Matter, a med-tech SME creating portable and non-invasive neuroimaging technologies, is planning to apply for further grants with Portsmouth NHS Hospital.
End of project evaluation has shown that 83% of participants were satisfied with the support offered, and 67% of SMEs are keen to continue collaborating with hospital partners. We’re pleased with this given the context of Brexit and Covid-19.
Finally, we’re pleased to have helped to play a role in partnering SMEs with hospitals on solutions that have helped us through the pandemic. For example, one of the SMEs ‘Docobo’ developed a remote telemonitoring platform with an oxygen saturation monitoring feature, which is an important indicator for Covid-19.
SMARTHEALTH is a €500,000 micro project, set up to support the development of new products and services in the e-health field. The project ran from the 1st September 2018 until the 30th November 2020.
For more information about the project partners visit:
Example video talks from Healthcare providers and SMEs are available below: